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2/17/2016 8:40:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Housing Starts Drop to Lowest Level in Three Months

Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg News

New-home construction in the United States unexpectedly cooled in January, indicating there is a limit to how much gains in residential real estate will boost growth at the start of 2016.

Housing starts dropped 3.8% to a 1.1 million annualized rate, the weakest in three months, from a 1.14 million pace the prior month, a Commerce Department report showed Feb. 17. The median forecast of 76 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was 1.17 million. Permits, a proxy for future construction, were little changed.

While all four regions of the nation saw a decline in construction, a crippling East Coast winter storm probably deepened the setback at the end of the month. A strengthening job market is projected to buoy housing demand this year, helping offset still-tight credit standards for some prospective buyers and turmoil in financial markets.

“We had a mild November and December, and there’s just a little bit of payback in January,” said Gus Faucher, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh, whose forecast tied for the closest in the Bloomberg survey. “I do expect to see growth in housing starts over the course of the year.”

Another report Feb. 17 showed wholesale prices unexpectedly rose 0.1% in January from the prior month as higher food costs more than offset the plunge in energy. Producer prices climbed 0.1% after falling 0.2% in December, according to figures from the Labor Department.

Economist estimates for housing starts in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 1.1 million to 1.23 million. The December figure was revised down from a previously reported 1.15 million pace.

Permits declined 0.2% to a 1.2 million annualized rate, indicating little scope for a rebound in construction this month.

The drop in starts last month was led by a 3.9% decrease in construction of single-family houses to a 731,000 rate.

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By Michelle Jamrisko
Bloomberg News

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